Why Document Management Fails | Article | HelpSystems

Why Document Management Projects Fail

And how to set your project up for success.
IBM i, Windows
Set yourself up for success.
March 6, 2017


Why do document management projects fail? The answer is simple. Document management projects fail because the wrong plan—or worse, no plan at all—is in place.

But what might cause a plan to go wrong? And how can you prevent it?


How Document Management Plans Go Wrong

There are many ways that document management plans go wrong and cause projects to fail.

You Go Too Big—and Struggle to Find ROI

Without the right plan, it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. Grand plans of getting your entire organization up and running with document management are grand indeed—but they’re not always realistic. At least, they’re not realistic simultaneously. (You can achieve them over the long haul, with proper planning.) When you go too big too soon, it puts the project at risk of being abandoned.

Trying to implement document management in one fell swoop sounds great at surface-level. Surely, getting it fully implemented across all departments would be the best path to ROI. Right?

Wrong. At least, wrong unless you have the unlimited resources to get the project completed fast. For most businesses, document management is best implemented gradually. Whether this means one department or one aspect (i.e., scanning documents) of document management, it’s the best way to help your organization realize ROI.

You Don’t Have Clear Benchmarks

Defining your benchmarks for document management is crucial to the success of your project. Lofty goals—like “we want to go paperless”—don’t count. They’re great—and they certainly define the ultimate purpose of your project. But they don’t give you solid benchmarks for measuring success.

The right document management plan should have clear benchmarks. These might include:

  • Implement a capture process for incoming documents
  • Scan all paper documents
  • Standardize the process for documents produced by your ERP (or other business system)
  • Get one department fully implemented first
  • Reduce time spent on document management-related tasks

When you set the right benchmarks for your document management project, you’re sure to succeed.

Your Users Aren’t On Board

You did it—you implemented document management at your business. And then you realize…nobody is using the system the way they should be.

User adoption is critical to the success of any document management project. If user adoption isn’t covered by your document management plan, then you have the wrong plan. Your project will fail if your users aren’t on board.

So when you’re planning for document management, take your users into consideration. Make sure your plan includes initiatives for bringing the users on board. These initiatives may include making sure the users know about the document management system, teaching them how to use it, and showing them how it will make their jobs easier.


Your Plan for Success: The Phased Approach

Don’t let your document management project fail. Make sure it’s a success by following the phased approach.

The phased approach takes your goals for document management and breaks them down into manageable chunks. Each phase should be easy to attain, and you should see a clear association between that phase and ROI.

While phases may differ depending on your projects and goals, here are questions to ask when determining the phases for your document management project.

1. Where Are Your Documents at Today?

First, consider your documents. Take into account the various types of documents you have—both paper and electronic. Examine how they are stored—in filing cabinets, network folders, and beyond. Estimate how many documents are involved and how many would need to be transitioned.

Next, consider the processes you have in place for those documents. For instance, how is a document routed? How is an invoice approved? How do you deliver an order acknowledgement to a customer? And how do you find documents when a customer calls asking about them?

So, can you answer where your documents are today? If not, it’s time to take stock so you can make the best document management plan for your business.

2. Where Do You Want Your Documents to be Tomorrow?

Determine how you’d like your documents to be stored. For instance, should your paper documents be converted to digital? How should documents be sorted and who should have access to them? Are there any rules that should be in place to standardize document indexing and naming conventions?

What about your processes? Are there inefficiencies and redundancies that could be corrected with document management?

For instance, manual routing processes can be automated so that:

  • You won’t need to chase documents—you’ll always know where they are.
  • You’ll retain visibility over approval statuses.
  • You can even set up the system to send automatic reminders to bottlenecks.
  • If all else fails, you can instruct the workflow to follow an exception process and skip over the bottleneck.

If you plan for it the right way, document management can also automate data entry, document capture, and more.

Process improvement is a sign of a document management project gone right—so remember to carefully evaluate your processes when making plans.

3. Which Departments Need Document Management?

Maybe there’s one department at your organization that desperately needs document management. Maybe your entire organization needs it.

If your organization is like most, it’s probably the latter. The planning process is exactly where you should determine which departments that need document management in the long-term—and which departments need document management first. You might not be able to implement document management everywhere instantly, but that’s where prioritizing your implementation comes in.

4. Where Should You Start?

You know that you need document management and you know what your ideal scenario looks like. Now you need to figure out where to begin. This is the crux of the phased approach. Finding a quick win for document management early on is often crucial to the success of the project—and user adoption.

There are a few different ways to approach the first phase of document management. A common approach to document management is to start with one department. This might be the department whose need is most dire. Or it might be the department where it can be implemented the quickest. Or maybe those departments are one and the same. Either way, starting with one department can be a great way to bring those users on board and demonstrate the potential ROI your business stands to gain.

Another common approach is to start with one aspect of document management. Perhaps it makes most sense for you to start with new documents—the documents your organization doesn’t have yet. As the documents come in, you can set up processes and rules for capturing them into the document management system. It might even make sense to narrow the scope of the initial project and start with new documents generated by your business systems. Automated capture processes for those documents are easy to put in place and can make a big impact down the road.

5. What’s Next?

You know where you’ll start with document management—whether it’s a department or process. Now, you need to think about where to go next. Do you want to spread document management to another department? Do you want to scan and store those paper documents?

Continue asking yourself what’s next until you’ve incorporated document management across your entire organization. Leave no process behind.

6. How Will You Get Users On Board?

User adoption is an oft forgotten key to success for document management. Your plan should focus on getting users on board early on.

In the first phase of document management, identify advocates for the project. Word of mouth is powerful. Another great way to bring users on board is to demonstrate how easy it is to capture, manage, and distribute documents digitally. Emphasize how much time they’ll save, and how much easier their lives will be.

7. Do You Have a Vendor You Can Count On?

Finally, don’t let document management get complicated. With the right vendor, you’ll be able to keep it simple. You should receive guidance on assessing your processes and defining your goals. The path to implementation—and ROI—should be clearly outlined. After all, your vendor should be an expert in document management implementations—and make sure you only need to do it once.   

Set Your Document Management Project Up for Success

You don’t have to figure out your document management plan alone. Let’s talk about your documents and processes. We’ll discuss where you’d like them to go and how to get there.

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